We usually think of the High Holy Days as being the period of time from Rosh Hashanah through the end of Yom Kippur – the Ten Days of Awe. But in fact the season of the High Holy Days begins a full month earlier, with the New Month of Elul. On that day, and through the month of Elul, we blow the shofar at the end of the morning service. This shofar blast is meant to wake us up, to prepare us for the days of judgment that are coming, so that we may put our spiritual houses in order.
On the Saturday night before Rosh Hashanah, we mark and prepare for the holiday in another way. On that night, we gather together for S’lichot – the recitation of penitential prayers. The Jewish mystics believed that God was most receptive to prayers of penitence in the early hours of the morning; in the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah, very observant Jews will rise at dawn to recite these prayers. But because the mystics knew that most Jews would not rise so early, and because the s’lichot prayers were deemed so important, they instituted the Saturday night service (traditionally done at midnight) so that others could fulfill this important obligation with a minimum of inconvenience.
At East Midwood, we make it easier still. Our evening begins at 8:30. This year, Rabbi Regina Sandler-Phillips will be with us once again, and she will address the themes of the holiday in her usual provocative and informative manner. Following her presentation, at 9:30, we will assemble in the Main Sanctuary for our service. The beautiful one-hour-long S’lichot service is conducted by Rabbi Kass and Cantor Levine, with extensive participation by the EMJC Chorus and our special guest accompanist Natalya Medvedovskaya on the piano. The choir sounds sublime – their hard work over many years has made the S’lichot service the crown of their repertoire. Come daven and sing with us, join in on Avinu Malkeinu and other familiar highlights of the liturgy, and get a taste of the majesty of the holiday prayers.
Please join us on Saturday night 8/31 at 8:30. Along with teshuva (repentance) and tzedakah (charity), the tefillah (prayer) of the S’lichot service is a moving and meaningful way to direct our hearts and our minds to the coming Days of Awe.
See you there, and l’shanah tovah tikateivu –
Cantor Sam Levine